George scores 43, but Blazers edge Pacers

Kerry Eggers, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

PORTLAND, Ore. -- On a night when Indiana Pacers forward Paul George was out of this world, the Portland Trail Blazers were still good enough to win.
The Trail Blazers overcame a career-high 43 points by George, breaking open a tight game with an early-fourth-quarter run, then holding on for a 106-102 victory Monday night at the Moda Center.
Forward LaMarcus Aldridge and guard Damian Lillard combined for 54 points for Portland, which never led until the final period. Aldridge collected 28 points and 10 rebounds, and Lillard scored 26 points for the Blazers (15-3).
George bombed in five 3-pointers in the final 2:56 as Indiana (16-2) trimmed a seven-point deficit to three in the closing seconds. Center Roy Hibbert added 16 points and 14 rebounds for the Pacers, who saw their seven-game winning streak end.
"It was like (George) could do whatever he wanted," said Portland forward Nicolas Batum, who spent most of the game trying to defend George. "He was going to make his shots. He's a top-five (NBA player), for sure. He's an MVP candidate so far.
"We tried to make him work. We did make him work. He made some tough shots. He did a great job tonight, but we still got a win."
George hit 16 of 30 shots from the floor, but Aldridge and Lillard did enough to offset his brilliance.
"The Blazers played a great game, particularly Aldridge and Lillard knocking down those really big shots," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.
Indiana led throughout a tightly contested first half but took only a 46-45 advantage into intermission.
Portland started cold -- 2-for-11 from the field -- and George scored 14 of his team's first 20 points as Indiana jumped in front 20-11. The Pacers took a 23-20 lead into the second quarter. George scored only two more points to go into the locker room with 16, but forward Luis Scola came on to contribute 10 off the bench.
Scola was scoreless in the second half.
Indiana extended its one-point halftime lead to 68-60 late in the third quarter, but the Blazers rallied to tie the score at 72 going into the final period.
Portland opened the fourth quarter on a 9-2 run, Lillard's 3-pointer giving the Blazers their first lead at 75-72. Guard Wesley Matthews' trey increased the margin to 86-78 with 6:30 to play. Indiana cut it to 86-82, and Hibbert scored back-to-back baskets to draw the Pacers to within 90-87 with 3:45 remaining.
Then George went to work, scoring Indiana's final 15 points on five 3-pointers to keep his team alive. It wasn't over until Batum made one of two free throws with 9.4 seconds left to provide the final four-point margin.
"I was just trying to keep us in there," said George, who shot 7-for-15 from 3-point range and 4-for-4 from the foul line in his 38-minute performance. "My number was called upon in the fourth quarter. I was just trying to be there for my teammates. I was trying to will us back into the game."
Was it the best victory of the season for the Blazers?
"It's up there," said Lillard, who shot 7-for-17 from the field but 10-for-10 from the free-throw line. "We knew it was going to be a tough one. (The Pacers) had only one loss. We wanted to show we're a good team, too. We knew it was going to be a slugfest, and we stayed the course."
NOTES: Portland is off to its best 18-game start since 1990-91, when it started 17-1. The Blazers last started 15-3 in 1998-99. ... Portland is 8-0 against Eastern Conference opponents this season. ... Earlier in the day, Portland's Terry Stotts and Indiana's Frank Vogel were named the NBA's two conference coaches of the month -- Stotts representing the Western Conference, Vogel the East. ... The teams' winning percentages were the highest for opponents meeting after at least 15 games since 1993. ... Indiana F Paul George came in ranked fourth in the NBA in scoring at 23.8 points per game. "I heard (Clippers coach) Doc Rivers say he got Most Improved Player last year and he could get it again this year, because he's made another jump," Stotts said. "George is playing at an All-Star, All-NBA level."

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